Imagine this: you’re out for your morning walk on the beach. It’s the day after Christmas and the sun is shining. You look out into the water and realize that something isn’t right. Something that is in the water shouldn’t be there. You take a closer look. Your curiosity becomes horror as you realize what it is you are looking at.
For the innocent bystander who found the body of a Holland America crew member, this scenario was reality. The body of Cliford B. Minej washed up on a Florida beach just five days after his cruise ship returned home without him. His body washed up at around 7:15 a.m. on Clearwater Beach. He was reportedly found wearing a t-shirt and shorts.
Unfortunately, man overboard situations on cruise ships are more common than the public would like to think. Since 2000, over 200 people have died as a result of falling overboard.
Investigators are still trying to determine what went wrong. It is unclear whether the man jumped to his death or fell off the ship by accident. The Pinellas County Medical Examiner has thus far ruled the man’s death an accident.
To make the situation more complicated, the ship’s captain waited until the ship pulled into port to declare Minej missing even though authorities claim that he fell off the ship when it entered the Gulf of Mexico near Ergmont Key.
Why was the missing persons report not issued sooner? Did the captain know that the worker was dead? Did the captain’s failure to report the man missing mean that crucial search and rescue efforts were unable to take place? The Coast Guard was uncertain whether Minej had disembarked the ship earlier or had fallen overboard. Ships should turn around and search for fallen passengers. Why didn’t the Holland America ship do this?
Enforcement agencies searched the area when the missing persons report was issued, but the search was called off on Sunday.
As an experienced cruise ship accident lawyer, I know that, unfortunately, in some cases, cruise lines fail to report incidents or accidents in a timely manner. In the case of the man overboard, the confusion about his disappearance may have stemmed from a failure of ship security to monitor its worker’s comings and goings.
Failure to properly report missing persons can mean pain and suffering for accident victims, delay in potential rescue efforts, or greater potential for a victim’s condition to worsen.
The case is a gruesome reminder of the risks cruise line workers face when they sign up for the job. One wonders whether similar procedures would have been followed had the missing person been a passenger. As it stands, there seem to be more questions than answers in this case. Despite this, the overboard accident case reminds passengers of the need to observe basic safety measures when on board a ship and to ensure that family and friends know each other’s whereabouts while on board.